Improving York’s rail hub and NHS cancer care
December 1, 2021
Last week I organised a debate in Parliament to make the case for our city to be chosen as the headquarters for the new public body Great British Railways. The government is creating this to produce better services through uniting the running of the network, the setting of timetables and fares, and revenue collection.
There would be an obvious economic boost, and it would further cement our city’s position as a regional centre. Given this opportunity, I thought it was essential to set out our case to Transport Ministers, and rally cross-party support from neighbouring MPs.
I stressed both our world-famous railway heritage, exemplified by the National Rail Museum and a station that was the largest on earth when first opened in 1877, and our successful modern rail industry and connections. Rail employs some 5500 people in York, a full 10% of the national railway workforce. Our city’s geographical position also makes it a strong contender, situated both near the centre of Great Britain and the heart of Northern England. I also emphasised the potential of the York Central development as a base, the largest brownfield site in Europe.
The Minister confirmed my arguments will be considered by the decision-making panel. We must remember this will be a very competitive process, with attractive bids from other Northern hubs, but I will continue to energetically make York’s case.
Locating Great British Railways is a chance for the government to demonstrate its commitment to improve Northern transport links, given significant concerns over the cancellation of the Leeds leg of HS2, and changes to TransPennine upgrade plans. I put these concerns robustly to the Prime Minister when he visited York station two weeks ago to promote the new Integrated Rail Plan.
However, I also think there are substantial advantages for the region in this new scheme, and I appreciate the government’s argument that they want to deliver immediate improvements through ‘shovel-ready’ projects, rather than ones that take decades. £96 billion is being allocated to rail upgrades across the North and Midlands, with full electrification of the current York-Manchester route, journey times to Birmingham and Manchester slashed 20 minutes, and 14 minutes shaved off our East Coast journey to London. £100 million was also assigned to discover how best to link Leeds to HS2, alongside a new West Yorkshire tram network, and I will continue lobbying hard to bring high-speed rail to Yorkshire.
Last week I also helped persuade the government to accept an amendment to their Health and Care Bill to improve NHS cancer outcomes, proposed by my Conservative colleague John Baron. This alters government instructions to the NHS to ensure it prioritises cancer outcomes i.e. survival rates, over other objectives like waiting times. The amendment should ensure the health service focuses more on earlier diagnosis, the most important factor in successful cancer treatment, rather than on processes.
By signing the amendment, I assisted in ensuring it had sufficient support to be debated, and I will watch carefully as the amended Bill now goes to its next stage in the House of Lords.
The Health Bill is part of a plan to assist our NHS as it rebuilds from the pandemic, supported by a major budget increase of some £44 billion during 2019-24. I have long argued that upgrading cancer services is central to this, and in October I pressed the Health Secretary in the Commons on the potential acquisition of a Da Vinci surgical robotic system for cancer treatment by York Hospital.
This revolutionary new machine allows for fewer, smaller incisions by the surgeon through miniaturised instruments and a high-definition camera, meaning faster recovery, less pain and scarring, and shorter hospital stays. It is important that York residents are able to access this enhanced experience, and I will continue engaging with Health Ministers and NHS leaders to ensure the latest medical technology can be rapidly deployed in our city.
I also want to warmly congratulate Zoe Metcalfe on her election as North Yorkshire’s new Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner last Thursday. I look forward to working with her to help deliver the government’s manifesto commitment to recruit 20,000 more police, with an additional 114 officers already deployed since September 2019 across our county.